Blog of Rob Galanakis (@robgalanakis)

Why Tech Artists must have “ruthlessness”

ruthlessness:  pitilessness; mercilessness characterized by a lack of pity .

In my GDC2011 IGDA SIG video interview, I told Bill Crosbie that Tech Artists much possess ‘ruthlessness.’  For those of you who want more info, or (like me) hate watching videos, I thought I should give some further explanation.

As I pointed out in my GDC session, TA’s are often highly embedded and less technically competent than ‘true programmers’ (I know many TAs that are better programmers than most programmers- I say this as a generality and expectation).  This results in one major problem- TA solutions are often ‘narrow’.  That is, they are implemented to solve too specific a purpose and under the all-too-often unhelpful and restrictive art zeitgeist.

Smart and forward thinking solutions to problems often require paradigm shifts- we’ve been developing content pipelines the same way for a decade, while content production has changed significantly.  We cannot come up with narrow solutions- we must come up with comprehensive and sophisticated solutions.  This is difficult because there is so much inertia and expectation about doing things the same way they’ve been done.

You cannot fight this inertia without ruthlessness.  It is your job as a TA to uncover the essence of your artists problems, but it is also your job to solve it in the way you think is best, not the way art teams necessarily expects.

It takes ruthlessness to intentionally break backwards compatibility so teams must move to newer and better ways of doing things and not rely on legacy tools- just make sure they don’t catch on to the intentionality of it.

It takes ruthlessness to deploy beta pipelines so they can be fixed and improved.  You cannot hold off until things are perfect, you need to get things out into the wild ASAP- just be ready to fix and iterate quickly and make sure people’s problems are addressed.

It takes ruthlessness to force your artists to endure short term pain for long term benefit- just make sure the benefit materializes.

It takes ruthlessness to force your artists to redo or throw away work if the new and better ways require something different- just don’t do this too often or you may be the problem.

It takes ruthlessness to say “no” small tasks you can do in an afternoon so you can concentrate on larger tasks- just make sure you eventually due these small tasks as it is one reason TAs are so effective!

It takes ruthlessness to ignore unhelpful criticism when implementing fundamental changes- just make sure you can tell the difference between people who criticize because they don’t want to understand what you’re doing, and those who criticize because they want to be helpful.

It takes ruthlessness to lie in order to ease people’s fears if they will be addressed and you don’t want to explain it all- just make sure enough people actually know the full story so you can get good feedback.

It takes ruthlessness to tell people to ‘suck it down’ if there’s nothing you can do or if it isn’t worth your time to do anything- just make sure they know and believe you care.

It takes ruthlessness to tell people they are wrong and you are right- just make sure that’s the case.

It takes ruthlessness to achieve your vision.

One of the differences between a good TA and a Great TA is this ability to be ruthless.  Great TAs have proven successful, and have a vision, and will stop at nothing to achieve it.  They have a group of people who believe in them and are willing to promote and defend them because they have seen the benefit the vision can bring.  If you strive to be a Great TA, don’t be afraid to show a little ruthlessness.

4 thoughts on “Why Tech Artists must have “ruthlessness”

  1. Greg Bahm says:

    This is an interesting hypothesis, but I find myself unpersuaded. The spirit of collaboration is the lifeblood of a successful game production, and it has been my observation that a team will not tolerate a ruthless tech artist even if they are ostensibly “right.”

    Surely you must recognize that, even if there is value in being “ruthless,” a tech artist should not proceed without the genuine consent of their artists?

  2. Sinisa Karolic says:

    Though the points you brought up are valid the approach to them I’d have to disagree with. Having a relentless drive to improve development process is necessary but you’re working with and for people first and foremost so you can’t treat them as sheep because they don’t see eye to eye with you.

    Even that relentless drive needs to be tempered by knowledge, experience, understanding of your client’s/project’s/studio/company needs, etc. Without that it’s just arrogance and ignorance.

    1. Greg, Sinisa: I have a reply post coming in the next couple days. Response is too long for a comment. I appreciate the feedback.

  3. […] were some (expected) disagreements to my post about why tech artists need ruthlessness.  Perhaps I can help explain my opinion by providing another one about something I know little […]

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